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Blake's 7: City at the Edge of the World

It's not easy being Vila. Halfway through series three before you get your own episode, and even then it doesn't end well. I'm afraid I don't feel terribly sorry for him, as - in this episode at least - I don't find him an especially sympathetic character. He's like Eeyore, but with squeaking. Still, he's one of the stars, and one of the most popular characters, so he's more than entitled to an episode of his own. It's not an episode that I'd have wanted, though, if I'd been him.

The Liberator needs some special crystals to power the weapons system, so Tarrant has made a deal with the inhabitants of a peace-loving world to get some. Unbeknownst to Tarrant, however, the world has been over-run by the sci-fi equivalent of an evil biker gang. There's a door on the planet that they want opened, and the deal is that Vila will open it in exchange for the necessary crystals. Very kindly, I'm presented with ten minutes of pretty much solid exploding at the end of this episode. Sadly I have to sit through forty minutes of Vila squeaking in order to get there. I'm guessing this is a popular episode with the 99% of Blake's 7 fans who love Vila, but this time around I'm just not seeing the attraction. Mind you, the dull plot that he was saddled with for his first big adventure didn't help a whole lot, it must be said.


Vila must go down to a planet. Vila does not want to go down to a planet. Tarrant growls at him. According to various of their shipmates, this leaves Vila so afraid that he no longer cares if he lives or dies; and also leaves him so unwilling to trust anybody that he refuses to swallow a locating device. Seriously? When did Vila get so pathetic? He's not usually. They really do treat him like a child in this episode, which doesn't exactly endear him to me. It's only Tarrant growling. Tarrant. If it was Avon I might understand it.


On the surface of the planet, Vila is greeted by a sociopathic bully with an attitude problem. She belittles him, threatens him and is generally unpleasant.


But she works for the Doctor, so I suppose that makes it all okay? This is Bayban the Butcher, terror of the Milky Way, and ham extraordinaire. He's hilarious, although that's probably not quite the effect that he's going for. Or at least, it's probably not the effect that Bayban is after. With Colin Baker one can never be quite sure.


Interestingly we're also joined by the Black Guardian, so it's practically a Doctor Who convention. This time the Black Guardian is sort of a good guy. Actually he's not really, if you stop to think about it at all, but I'm never sure how far we're expected to do that. He's pretty cavalier with people's lives, at any rate. His people own the door that Bayban the Bizarre wants to open. It's got "this world and the next" on the other side of it.


Little Miss Psychopath goes off for a shower and a change of clothes. This immediately causes Vila to forget all about how thoroughly unpleasant she is. It also seems to make her forget it, which is quite clever.


Having opened the door, Vila takes his new girlfriend and sets off to explore on the other side. The door closes behind them, shutting them in.


This woman has clearly never seen The Adventure Game. That really does look like one of their puzzles. Do not poke the geometric patterns. Trust me on this.


Well you can't say I didn't warn you.


Vila and the nutball girlfriend wind up teleported aboard a spaceship. Turns out that the inhabitants of the planet they just left were trying to escape millennia ago, so they built a spaceship. Every thirty-five generations, somebody is expected to open the door somehow, and get zapped aboard the ship. If it's docked somewhere where they can set up home, hurrah. If it hasn't, there's no way back, so they suffocate to death. Faced with imminent suffocation, Vila and the girlfriend decide that the most sensible thing to do is have sex.


But chastely, whilst fully dressed and not actually touching.


Elsewhere, the rest of the Liberator crew have decided to come and help; with any peril that happens to be going on, rather than with the sex, I'm guessing. Dayna demonstrates one of her more endearing character traits by suddenly producing a huge, home-made explosive device from out of thin air, whilst simultaneously flirting.


Tarrant definitely has the better girlfriend. Less sex, granted, but way more exploding.


Something else explodes. Don't know what, but it's very nice.


Avon and Cally would probably disagree with me there, but that's hard luck.


The Doctor Bayban the Bombastic has a laser cannon. It's big enough to blow up the whole city if it puts its mind to it, apparently. Sadly he doesn't get the opportunity to test the theory...


... because Avon, in a rare attack of killjoyery, stops him from firing it. Everybody glares at each other a lot, wondering about Vila, and doors, and debating over the important issue of whether Colin Baker or Paul Darrow is the bigger ham.


Gazillions of light years away, Vila and his girlfriend have discovered that they're not going to suffocate after all, as the ship has docked somewhere. They find themselves in their own special Eden, where they proceed to be deeply annoying for a while, before going back where they came from. Their arrival triggers the entire population of the Black Guardian's planet to go and teleport themselves to their new world. It's an odd story, this. If the search for a new planet is so undesperate that they only bother to check once in every thirty-five generations to see whether or not it's over, then why have they all been genetically programmed to run for the new world the instant they find out about it? Why the sudden rush? Other than the fact that the episode is over. Anyway, the girlfriend elects to go with them. Vila decides to stay behind. A wise decision, Vila. After all, she's being nice enough for the time being, but if she ever forgets to take a bath, it's Sociopath City all over again.


I don't really remember what's going on here. I just like that they're all looking surprised in different directions.


Bayban the Bonkers tries to blast himself through the door with his laser cannon. Since it's not really a door at all, but a forcefield that reflects back whatever you throw at it, he immediately blasts everything on the planet with laser fire. Things explode all over the place. It's awesome. The Liberator crew teleport out of course, and Vila mopes about the loss of his girlfriend. She was horrible, Vila. Just because you liked her new dress is no reason to suppose that you'd have lived happily ever after. Sooner or later she'd have been off in her leathers, trying to subjugate the universe again.

I really wanted to like this episode more than I did, which is probably what I think every time I watch it. It's got Colin Baker being loads of fun as a way OTT outlaw. It's got Valentine Dyall. It's got things exploding, and half the Liberator crew charging down corridors blasting things. Unfortunately though, for the most part it's just Vila talking about doors. Even when he's not doing that, he's hardly being interesting. If he has some tragic past that gives him reason to cower in fear when Tarrant does that grandiose pout of his, I wish they'd tell us about it. As it is, we're left with this hopeless clot who lets himself get pushed around by everybody. Vila fans tend to hate Tarrant in this episode, because of the high-handed attitude, all of which has led to some major demonisation in some reviews. Thing is though, as soon as Tarrant realises that he's put Vila in danger, he not only accepts his responsibility, but he immediately tries to put things right; and he makes an apology that he clearly means. That's not exactly the work of an ogre. Besides which, he only comes across as the bad guy because for the duration of this episode, the galaxy's greatest thief is a six-year-old boy.

Still, by the end of the story, Vila seems to have grown up a whole lot. Not that it will last, since he'll have a different personality again with the very next writer, but whatever. I'm being mean about the show again, aren't I. I'm sorry about that. It's just that the erratic characterisation of Vila really does drive me up the wall.

Comments

( 2 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
i_bookwyrme
Nov. 2nd, 2012 11:22 pm (UTC)
Awww... I like this episode. Vila finally gets his day in the sun!

And I love his final comment: "Let's hope they've all got nice legs!"
swordznsorcery
Nov. 3rd, 2012 01:50 am (UTC)
I'd have liked it a lot more if I could have understood Vila, and if Cally hadn't been so eager to treat him like a child. This was the Vila who accidentally surrendered back at the start of series one, not the secret genius that some writers like to tease us with. I do like his exchange with Orac at the end though, certainly.
( 2 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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